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The Sickening Secret the Meat Industry Doesn't Want You to Know

In September, the FDA cited an Ohio dairy farm for violating USDA and FDA rules about humane treatment of calves bred as veal, and for the unlawful use of antibiotics on some of the animals.

VealAccording to a report in Food Safety News, Raber View Holstein Farm, based outside Millersburg, Ohio, sold at least one veal calf treated with illegal antibiotics that are not approved for human consumption.

The farm “went way over the limit for using the antibiotics Sulfamethoxazole and Trimethoprim in treating an ill animal, probably for a urinary tract infection,” Food Safety News said. “The presence of the drug means the meat is adulterated under federal law.”

The FDA also cited the farm for holding the animals “under conditions that are so inadequate that medicated animals bearing potentially harmful drug residues are likely to enter the food supply."

Unfortunately, improper handling of veal calves doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident. In another case in August, the Seattle Business Journal reported that Washington state-based food distributer, Costco, was “apologizing” for the mistreatment of the veal calves raised on one of its suppliers’ farms.

The mea culpa came only after a shocking undercover video of the farm’s veal-raising practices was made public. The film, of Buckeye Veal Farm in Apple Creek, was aired by a Columbus, Ohio TV station, and it was so graphic that the station’s website still carries a warning that it “may be disturbing to some viewers.”

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

The most disturbing thing about the NBC4i video I used as a source above is that, despite its warning to viewers, it is highly edited -- it’s nothing compared to the raw footage posted on YouTube by Mercy for Animals, which is so horrific that you have to affirm that you’re 18 before YouTube will let you watch it.

Calf abuseNarrated by TV personality and animal activist Bob Barker, the unedited version shows in sickening detail the merciless way that veal calves are readied for the trip to your plate.

While Costco immediately condemned the calf abuse at Buckeye Veal, saying they “had no clue” the calves were treated like this, it’s hard to believe that somebody in the business of selling veal doesn’t know how it comes to be veal.

As I’ll explain later, there’s a very specific process that calves have to go through for their meat to turn out like it does.And that method is NOT compatible with the free-range, grass-eating, hormone- and drug-free beef that I recommend, if you choose to eat meat.

Veal’s Tenderness and Color Come at a Price

You might be thinking cost, as in dollars and cents, when I mention the price of veal -- and yes, it’s expensive compared to more common cuts of beef like burger or even steak. But the real price of veal is what it costs the calf that brings it to you.

I am amazed at how few people realize that veal is a direct product of the dairy industry. But the fact is, in order to give milk, cows must continue breeding. And once the calves are born, they are monetary burdens to a dairy’s bottom line.

VealWhile females can be “recycled” into milk producers themselves, the males are costly overhead. One way of turning that overhead into profits is to get the males to market as soon as possible. Veal is the meat that comes from a young calf, usually 16 to 18 weeks old when it’s slaughtered.

Bob veal is the meat from a younger calf, newborn to 3 weeks old, weighing no more than 150 pounds. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), about 15 percent of the veal industry comprises bob veal.

It sounds simple. A calf is born, it goes to market, and you take it home and savor one of the most tender, tasty cuts of meat in the industry. But there’s something sinister going on between the time that calf is born and when it lands on your plate -- and it’s something the meat industry would rather you didn’t know.

Confined, Chained, Drugged and ‘Special-Fed’

A veal calf’s life begins by being ripped from its mother at birth, or at the most, within three days after birth and moved into living conditions that defy description.

VealThe majority are confined in individual, tiny crates or stalls -- typically 26 to 30 inches wide by 66 inches long -- with their heads poking out through metal bars or wooden slats. Chains on their necks keep them from moving much more than enough to eat or lie down in a stiff, unnatural position.

And that’s the way they live the rest of their tragic, short lives.

That’s right. That tender, white-pink delicacy that you pay an arm and a leg for comes from a calf that was forced to stand still in one position in a stall no bigger than itself for its entire life.


Because if the calf moves around or roams freely, it just might build up some muscle, which is not good for tender meat.

But that’s not all -- for veal to get its creamy, velvety look and taste, the calf must be deprived of fiber, such as grasses and grains that could give it muscle, and kept borderline anemic with a special milk- or soy-based formula. The USDA says this diet is “fortified” with 40 “essential” nutrients, including amino acids, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins.

But the point is, aside from a formula that is nowhere near what the calf would be getting from its mother, all of the nutrients are synthetic -- manufactured in a factory and loaded in the fake milk, along with soy that more than likely is genetically modified, and grown in a field sprayed with pesticides.

It’s illegal to give these calves hormones, but antibiotics are often a necessity.

Because of the unnatural -- and unhealthy -- conditions they live in, veal calves can become sick with stomach ulcers, respiratory infections, pneumonia, and diarrhea.

So the farmer gives the calves antibiotics so they can get well enough to go to slaughter. That is, if they can stand or walk long enough to be put out of their misery, because sometimes they get so weak they can’t move when it’s finally time to leave their crates.

And that’s where the abuse really begins.

If you can stomach watching another undercover video, this time of Bushway Packing in Vermont, you will see what happens to calves that can’t walk. In a sick twist of irony, veal farm regulations say a calf that can’t stand on its own can’t be put down and used for food. So, the farmer will do whatever is necessary to get the calf standing just long enough to slaughter it.

The grisly footage shows workers kicking, dragging and repeatedly stunning veal calves with electric prods. What you don’t see, according to the Burlington Free Press, is a calf being skinned alive.

Abuse like this is not supposed to happen, and Bushway, which was cited three previously for its horrific practices, was shut down when this video surfaced. But the kicker is Bushway Packing was a certified organic farm!

A Breeding Ground for Contamination and Possible Human Illness

When you hear “organic,” you tend to think that the food in question must be superior to anything that’s not labeled organic. But the only USDA definition of organic in the veal industry is that the animals are raised without hormones or antibiotics. It does NOT mean they don’t get artificial formulas or don’t live in conditions that can cause harm to the animals as well as humans.

According to the USDA, E. coli and salmonella are both food-borne illnesses associated with veal. The E. coli can colonize in the intestines of animals, which could contaminate muscle meat at slaughter. Both E. coli and salmonella can be killed by thorough cooking, but it’s still a health risk since so many people prefer their meat on the rare side.

In fact, the risk is so great that in February of this year, 4.9 million pounds of veal and beef in California were recalled because E. coli was found in “unsanitary operating conditions” at the plant, Huntington Meat Packaging.

Instance after Instance of Illegal Levels of Antibiotics

VealIn non-organic farms, if the animals get sick, certain antibiotics are allowed, but they must be cleared from the animal’s system before the calf can be sold. As a watchdog measure and to trace illnesses if they do happen, veal packers are required to take samples of each calf’s meat, and submit the samples to regulators for testing.

But even that doesn’t keep unsafe veal from going to market, as illustrated in August at the Corscadden Family Farm in New York. The farm received an FDA warning letter for having unsafe levels of tetracycline and penicillin in its veal, just like three Pennsylvania veal farms got on August 30.

The Pennsylvania veal meat tested for high levels of neomycin (an antibiotic to treat intestinal tract bacteria), penicillin, and flunixin, a nonsteroid, anti-inflammatory drug usually given to horses to alleviate pain.


Banned in the United Kingdom, ‘Transitioning’ in the U.S.

The list of contaminated veal products that are being released regularly in the U.S. market goes on and on, and I think you get the idea that it’s not isolated to Costco’s Ohio supplier. The good news is that America’s hunger for veal has dropped dramatically, from an all-time high in 1944 of an average 8.6 pounds per person per year to a little over 1 pound in 1988, to less than half a pound in 2004.

The bad news is that, unlike the United Kingdom and the entire European Union, the US has yet to totally outlaw the indoor, cramped crates that the majority of veal calves in this country live in.

Just reading the USDA’s website, you would think that everything’s rosy when it comes to those crates and how veal calves are treated in the US. Defending the living conditions by saying the stalls “provide a safe environment where the calves can stand, stretch, groom themselves and lay down in a natural position,” the USDA is talking right out of the side of its mouth -- you would never guess that this is the same agency that’s systematically going farm to farm, shutting down unsafe veal operations.

And the FDA?

I’m not going to beleaguer the issue by pointing out that this agency is only doing what it does in all facets of its responsibilities -- with too few resources, not enough manpower and no laws to back it up even it could stop the evils of veal.

So what’s happening is that U.S. officials are just leaving it up to the states and the industry itself to change for the better.

The American Veal Association says it’s made a commitment to “transition” toward more humane treatment of veal calves and have banned, on their own, the confined crates -- but their implementation goal for that is seven years away.

That’s why it’s good to hear that some farms and suppliers, including Costco, have decided to do away with the crates on their own. Five states -- California, Michigan, Maine, Arizona, and Colorado -- also have jumped the Veal Association’s deadline, and banned them on their own, along with two of the nation’s largest veal producers, Strauss Veal and Marcho Farms.

Is There Such a Thing as Humanely-Raised Veal Calves?

While some people believe there is no such thing as humanely-raised veal, it appears that humane veal farming methods are beginning to see the light.

For example, Wisconsin-based Strauss Veal told the San Francisco Chronicle online (SFgate.com) in 2009 that it changed its operations to selling only free-range veal, never tethered or confined, that’s fed only its mother’s milk and pasture grass. The farm also doesn’t use antibiotics, animal by-products or other artificial means of readying the calves for market.

It’s a good sign, too, that other farmers are slowly following suit, like this group from New England, who told NPR that they were opening their pastures to calves to frolic in the fields and nurse from their mothers until they go to market as veal.

The surprise is that this new way of doing things has opened up a new bottom line for at least one of these farmers, who said that her calves are now so healthy that she can sell them to high-end restaurants for $500 apiece -- quite a bit more than the $100 she got from the confined feeding operations.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, then, that the president of the American Veal Association, Steve Kraut, was none too happy about this “new” type of veal:

“If these folks were going to raise this product, market it under the name of veal, and then denigrate the long-standing veal industry in this country, I guess it would have been nice to have heard from one of them first,” Kraut told NPR.

Did he say denigrate?

How could free-ranging, mother-fed, drug-free, grass-eating calves denigrate what this industry has done so far, and is still doing to the meat it calls veal -- unless what Kraut is trying to say is that, if the calves are not crated, confined, drugged and borderline anemic, then they’re not veal?

In that case, I’m standing by the advice that I give with all my food plans, and that is that the best way to take control of your health is to learn everything you can about the food products you’re consuming, and follow a food plan that is healthful, tasty, and appropriate for your nutritional type. To help you with the latter, I now offer the entire nutritional typing test for free, online.

Avoid processed foods, chemical additives, sugars, and animal proteins that are bred in factory farms under the horrific conditions that traditional veal is.

From pasture farmed organic eggs and butter to mercury-free fish, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables, to raw milk and grass-fed beef, to all-natural supplements such as krill oil, you can choose foods that taste good and are good for you, simply because they are come to you the way nature intended -- natural, and drug- and pesticide-free.

Conventional veal is raised in one of the most inhumane, unthinkable conditions of any food industry, and there’s simply no good reason to consume such conventionally-raised veal that I can think of.


  Stevenson P. The need to prohibit the veal crate system. Compassion in World Farming report, November 1999.
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